Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

New laws needed to tackle global threat of fake news, Arab Media Forum told

Spread of misinformation is damaging to the reputation of journalism

The Arab Media Forum has heard of the dangers posed by the rise in fake news. Getty
The Arab Media Forum has heard of the dangers posed by the rise in fake news. Getty

New laws should be introduced to combat the global spread of fake news, an international media conference in Dubai has heard.

Ali Al Rumaihi, Bahrain's Minister for Information Affairs, told the Arab Media Forum that the scourge of misinformation has become so great that journalists are urging governments to roll out legislation to protect legitimate news sources.

Fake news reports and unreliable social media chatter were harming the reputation of the global media, according to panelists at the forum.

Online platforms - where much of the misinformation is posted - face an ongoing battle to tackle the problem, particularly state-driven propaganda.

An investigation by cyber-security company FireEye, the most sweeping examination into Iranian cyber-efforts to date, released last year detailed the true scale and reach of Tehran’s propaganda efforts and the attempts by its agents to shape the views of western audiences.

It is an effort of comparative scale to that of Russia’s troll factories that have sought to influence elections, referendums and governments from Washington to Paris to London.

Last October, Twitter released its complete data set of Iran's and Russia's activity, which combined amounts to more than 10 million tweets and two million images.

“Journalists are calling for some kind of legislation when it comes to dealing with fake news,” said Mr Al Rumaihi.

“Previously it was the case they would be calling for legislation when it came to being able to access information.

“Journalists are so concerned by the rise of fake news they want some official guidelines in place to cope with it.”

The National reported earlier this week how Facebook had removed more than 500 accounts suspected of “inauthentic behaviour” linked to Iran.

The 513 accounts consisted of 158 pages, 263 Facebook accounts, 35 groups and 57 Instagram accounts.

It was estimated that 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of those pages, along with 108,000 accounts who were members of the groups and 38,000 accounts that followed the Instagram accounts. The accounts were said to have spent $15,000 on advertising.

The administrators behind the accounts passed themselves off as either locals or fake media organisations. In some instances they impersonated real political groups and media organisations, Facebook said.

“The best way to fight fake news is to invest on quality journalism on the ground,” said Fabrice Fries, chairman and CEO of Agence France Press (AFP), during the forum.

“Journalists are finding themselves spending more times on becoming verifiers of information. It only takes an hour to debunk a story but it can take three weeks to verify facts in some cases.”

There have been a number of high profile examples of fake news generating massive amounts of hits on social media channels.

More than 830,000 people engaged with a fake story on Facebook about how US President Donald Trump was going to ban schools in response to shootings, in 2018.

A story about how North Korea was embracing Christianity saw engagement with more than 760,000 people.

More than 630,000 people were fooled by a 2018 story suggesting that all Muslims were about to leave the US unless a pork-free menu was introduced in each restaurant.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, also addressed media representatives on the opening day of the conference.

He said the media an play a vital role in tackling hate speech and has the power to make a "positive impact" on society.

"The media must maintain high levels of integrity and professionalism," said Sheikh Mohammed.

"A balanced discourse, constructive ideas and openness are the real weapons that media should use to combat hate speech.

"The media is our main partner in protecting Arab youth and motivating their minds to go beyond mere personal interests”.

This year’s Arab Media Forum , which concludes on Thursday, is being held under the theme “From now to the future”.

There will be 75 speakers and 200 prominent media figures taking part in the event at Dubai World Trade Centre over the course of the two days.

Organisers said they also expected representatives and speakers from more than 20 countries across the Arab world to take part in the event.

Updated: March 27, 2019 06:55 PM

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